January 18, 2018 ☼ Word of the Day
Also spelled cod’s wallop. But what does it mean? Folderol. Balderdash. Bunkum. Applesauce. Hogwash. Of the rich catalog of pseudo-sensical synonyms for “nonsense,” Codswallop is a top-drawer specimen.
Consider its codswallop of an etymology (or lack thereof). Some competing theories:
‘Cods’ is a euphemism for testicles (as in cod-piece), and ‘Wallop’, a euphemism for beer. It was a humorous term for ‘piss’, and by transference came to mean ‘rubbish’.Peter Brooke, Kinmuck, Scotland
The expression comes from the fairly meaningless sound (oooph!) emitted by one struck (or ‘wallopped’) by a cod (a now abandoned instrument of medieval torture) following questions of the “when did you last see your father?” kind.Pete Wigens, Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK
While the genus of questions proposed here is intriguing, this definition smells fishy.
As far as I am aware, in the 19th and early 20th centuries beer was known colloquially as ‘wallop’, because of its alcohol content. Then a Mr. Cod [sic] started to manufacture Cod’s ginger beer that contained no alcohol and was regarded with contempt by beer drinkers. After that anything lacking substance was referred to as Cod’s wallop.J. Owens, London, UK
This is the most popular theory, but it’s probably folklore. We know there was a soda maker named Hiram Codd and that ‘wallop’ was one time slang for beer. But if there was ever proof that these concepts are connected, it’s lost to us now.
For the kind of evidence you can see we turn to Phrases.org:
The phrase probably originated in post-WWII Britain. The earliest reference that I can find to it in print is as the title of a sketch by the Anglo-Australian artist Richard Larter, which he created in 1958, while still living in England.
‘Load of Codswallop’ gained more currency the following year, in the script of a 1959 episode of the popular UK television series ‘Hancock’s Half Hour’. The writers Galton and Simpson don’t claim to have coined the phrase, which they say was in public circulation when the show was broadcast.Gary Martin
I’ve never seen Hancock’s Half Hour, but it sounds like a riot. In its script we find the first record of codswallop in print, but the writers abdicate responsibility for its creation. Could a word this insane really have chugged through the machinery of public consciousness, for decades, without anyone writing it down?
If not, then those radio play writers have played us hook, line, and sinker. Their made-up, funny-sounding concoction now thrives in the wild; swimming freely in a sea of flim-flam, rigmarole, and riddlemaree.